Don’t get me wrong: I know that many of the nation’s problems are highly complex. But I also know that the governing principles that can solve them, if we work together, are simple. Justice, integrity, freedom—the basic notions upon which America was founded—are simple. Somewhere along the way, too many of our leaders have picked up the idea that it takes something like rocket science or brain surgery to deal with public problems. Wrong. When a new law is too long for anyone to read, let alone understand, it’s too long, period!
I’ve tried to follow the same principle in writing this book. First, I’ve approached the various topics here with the
underlying principles that helped make our country strong. Then, in each case, I’ve explored solutions that would be consistent with those bedrock ideals.
I’m not trying to win a Pulitzer Prize or impress the folks at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford—if they’d even listen to me! I’m writing directly to everyone who loves America and believes that it’s still the greatest country in the world (and can become even greater once we get back to basics) despite today’s serious challenges. I’m writing for people who aren’t ashamed to eat hot dogs and hamburgers (in moderation!) and probably think that a meal of snails is better suited to birds and fish than to humans.
put, in other words, this book is intended for about 80 percent of the American people. And if just half of that group would read it and take it to heart, my wife and I would be set for quite a few of the golden years! But more important, my readers would be empowered and energized to restore clarity and common sense to our national government, just as the Founders intended.
Along the way, I hope to tell you some things you’ve probably never heard and remind you of some important things you may have forgotten, while keeping it all entertaining enough that you won’t fall asleep midparagraph.
I also promise to be honest—perhaps painfully and brutally honest, when necessary. My goal is to be clear and open, and if that offends some people I’m all right with that. Personally, I’m so sick of the hypocritical, cynical, uninformed nonsense I’ve read and heard lately that I’d prefer to risk having some readers hate this book because they
understand it rather than have many hate it because they
Of course, what I really hope is that, because you do understand the book, you’ll
it. Call me vain if you want, but I think you’re going to!
The Most Important Form of Government Is a Father, a Mother, and Children
We Need a Return to Family Values
here’s an old Japanese proverb that says, “It is easier to rule a kingdom than to regulate a family.” I don’t know who said this, but as someone who’s done both (though I’d hardly call Arkansas a kingdom), I can say with absolute certainty that he was right.
I’ll bet you’ve never thought of your family as a government. But when you get right down to it, it’s the form of government that matters most—much more than Congress, or your state legislature, or even your neighborhood block association. Get your family right, and its strength will wind its way up to the highest levels of global power. Of course, the reverse is also true: When the family fails, so do the other organizing structures around it.
Why does a person commit a heinous crime—use a deadly weapon to rob someone, vandalize a school, rape a woman, murder a hapless victim for twenty dollars, or steal millions from investors (perhaps including friends and relatives) in a Ponzi scheme? Are these acts caused by incomprehensible wickedness? Are these people just plain bad? No, it’s really very simple. These are people who failed to grasp—or were never offered—the simplest lessons of self-discipline, respect for others, and a strong sense of human decency. And where should those lessons be taught and learned? It’s not the job of a school, a workplace, or even a church to provide these most basic of life lessons (though we shouldn’t forget about them there either). And besides, even when we do rely on institutions for these lessons, they usually fail.
No, these lessons cannot be taught by a teacher, boss, or minister. In order to create truly valuable and respectful citizens, these lessons need to be taught at home. By the time we enter school or start a job, we should have learned how to behave. I’m not usually a pessimist, as you probably know, but I’m afraid that if a child has not learned to behave by age four or so, he or she never will.
When I was a child and did something my mother found objectionable, she’d say, with some exasperation, “Were you raised by wolves?” Of course (being objectionable), my immediate inclination was to whip back a smart-aleck answer like “No, ma’am. I got it from you!” But I never did because I knew that the wolf in her would come out and probably chew me out. Plus, I knew what she meant: This was her way of reminding me that I was supposed to try to achieve a certain level of civil behavior. I might even demonstrate a notable difference from animals in the wild by using a napkin, saying a blessing before diving into a plate of food, or washing up before sitting down to eat. Such civilized rules of courtesy, kindness, and unselfishness were expected of me not merely so that I could get what I wanted but because, quite simply, they were
To this day, I try to behave the way my mother wanted me to—not because I’m afraid of being grounded (my wife does that now) but because she taught me the difference between right and wrong and showed me by example how to behave. These principles originate, of course, from the family.
Okay, let me say it before you do: No family is perfect, and even children raised in wonderful families can turn out to be like wolves. Still, it makes sense that children nurtured with rules are far more likely to follow them than those given free rein to follow their most primal instincts of “self first, others second.” In the national ongoing conversation about how to change “government” and make “society” better, I rarely hear a reference to the obvious starting place: the creation and nurturing of functioning families, in which a mother and a father bring up their offspring with the understanding that the older generation is training the younger to be their replacements.
This essential belief is not (at least it shouldn’t be) a partisan issue, but sometimes it can seem like one. For example, President Obama, speaking to the West Point graduating class on May 22, 2010, said, “American innovation must be the foundation of American power.” Yes, innovation is important (as I will discuss in later chapters of this book), but, to repeat, I believe that the foundation of American power has always been and must continue to be . . . (drum roll, please!) . . . the American family.
On this issue, as on so many others, I cast my lot with Ronald Reagan, who said, “The family has always been the cornerstone of American society. Our families nurture, preserve, and pass on to each succeeding generation the values we share and cherish, values that are the foundation of our freedom.”
It should surprise no one—certainly it would not have surprised President Reagan—that those who now want to “transform” traditional America recognize this truth from the opposite direction and have placed the American family smack in the crosshairs. You know this. You see it every day. The family structure that made this country the most powerful and prosperous in the history of the world—father, mother, children—is under assault today as never before.
As parents and even grandparents, what can we do? Simple. We fight back. What happens in our day to the traditional family will determine whether we remain a morally healthy nation of self-reliant families, for the most part, or degenerate into a decadent welfare state of shattered, chaotic, and dependent families.
If you think I’m exaggerating, a little history lesson might be in order. (Many of us somehow managed to get a high school diploma even with a meager knowledge of history, but I digress. . . .) In 1917, when the communists seized power in Russia, they immediately and frankly set out to destroy what they saw as the two biggest threats to their authority: religion and the family. According to an article in the July 1926 issue of
, the Bolsheviks hated the institution of the family with a fierce passion. They forbade all religious ceremonies, which had the effect of turning marriage into just a piece of paper issued by a clerk. In turn, marriage could be undone in a matter of minutes by a piece of paper from another clerk. The ultimate aim of this new socialist state, so far as family was concerned, was to promulgate free love. Along the same lines, abortions were officially sanctioned and paid for by the government.
The article contained some startling facts to back up the report:
It was not an unusual occurrence for a boy of twenty to have had three or four wives, or for a girl of the same age to have had three or four abortions. Some men have twenty wives, living a week with one, a month with another. . . . They have children with all of them, and these children are thrown on the street for lack of support.
The party’s long-term goal? To throw families into chaos, thus making children loyal to the state rather than to their parents. To that end, children still living at home were told to keep a close eye on their parents and, if they criticized the regime, turn them in to the authorities. So now the young, after all, knew better than the old!
Almost one hundred years later, of course, the Soviet Union has collapsed. We don’t live in the shadow of the cold war; but threats lurk elsewhere. The legacies of this massive failed “experiment” are the ideas of sexual revolution that live on and wreak havoc in our own society today through legalized abortions (and the movement in favor of having them funded by the government), seemingly casual divorce (for the first time, in 2010 fewer than 50 percent of American adults were married), growing nonchalance about unwed pregnancy among teens, and, finally, the fevered attempts to extend the definition of marriage beyond “one man, one woman.” Not even the heirs of Marx and Lenin thought of going that far!Pull Up the Drawbridge
From our friends across the pond, the Brits, we long ago adopted the idea that “a man’s home is his castle.” Fine, so far as that goes, but we must remember this: Castles were built not as mansions or showcases to impress the neighbors but as fortresses that would provide protection from ruthless enemies. Not to sound paranoid (just realistic), but I believe that in America today, as in the Russia of 1917, the family has lots of enemies—not all of them clearly identifying themselves or riding up armed and mounted on a steed. So parents really do need to draw up the drawbridge against a widespread culture of vulgarity and violence. You don’t have a drawbridge? That’s fine, because you have something better—parental guidance. If you can monitor the influence the world has on your kids and fulfill your parental responsibility by acting as the filter representing traditional values, then you will be, in effect, keeping out any enemies threatening to take over your family.
When it comes to questionable influences, just where do you draw the line? Well, you could start with a simple premise about what’s beaming in on the airwaves: Much of it deserves to land squarely in the moat. But some stuff is worse than other stuff.
Not to give government a pass here (we’ll get to them), but I’d argue that pop music is often the worst culprit, with “reality TV” (talk about untruth in advertising) running a close second. Without parental guidance, an impressionable girl might learn that the way to succeed is to shed her innocence as early as possible. That means, for starters, that becoming recognized in the public eye as a talented young woman involves seminudity, plastic surgery, and maybe even a stripper pole. Also, posting naked pictures or a sex video on the Internet is a guarantee of instant attention.
This is, to some extent, just a contemporary exaggeration and exploitation of the old story of the teen years. Many girls, particularly those who don’t have a dad at home, believe that male approval in the form of a boyfriend is essential to existence. I don’t think any sane person who doesn’t live under a boulder would try to argue otherwise. Some boys sense this very well (hello!), pressuring girls to “get with the program.” One good message that did come out of feminism—that girls can write their own program instead of just trying to please boys—is now out the window among many young people, especially when dealing with their peers.
Okay, so you’re fully aware of all of these influences, and you’re standing warily at the drawbridge. Or maybe by now you’re up on the battlements armed with cauldrons of boiling oil. Next step, aside from insisting that your home conform to your values: You have to be vigilant about what goes on in your local schools. That means get out the catapult! To be effective, your reach needs to extend as far as it possibly can.
Here are some things you might want to look into. Is your first grader reading about Dick and Jane getting a puppy named Spot, or is he learning how nice it is that Heather has two mommies? Is your eighth grader studying the fruit and vegetable exports of South American farmlands, or is he practicing how to put a condom on a banana? Or is your child not learning anything at all today after being sent home for wearing an American flag T-shirt on Cinco de Mayo—or any other day?
Don’t hesitate to pore over your kids’ assigned books and lesson plans. Do the history books teach them that America should be cherished—or blamed for something? Talk with your kids about what goes on in the classroom: Do any teachers preach according to personal agendas that conflict with what you teach at home? Encourage your kids to read widely for themselves, rather than be bound by the assignments from school. Help them understand that they go to school to be educated, not indoctrinated. Class is supposed to be for exercising the mind. That means they need to be taught
to think, not